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September 26, 2018

Tanzania warns multi choice over free to air channels

CNN International senior vice-president, Newsgathering Deborah Rayner, President Uhuru Kenyatta and MultiChoice Africa CEO Tim Jacobs/FILE
CNN International senior vice-president, Newsgathering Deborah Rayner, President Uhuru Kenyatta and MultiChoice Africa CEO Tim Jacobs/FILE

Authorities in Tanzania have threatened to shut down pay TV services provider MultiChoice for offering free-to-air channels on its DSTv platform.   

A public notice by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) on Tuesday claimed the company had not complied with the licence conditions, that exclude the free-to-air stations from its bouquet of subscription services.

MultiChoice — which includes GOtv — is the second to face the threat of suspension after Star Media Tanzania Limited, which was similarly warned on July 27 for charging access to free-to-air channels.

The company had also failed to pay a fine for breaching the law.

“The authority hereby notifies the general public that it intends to suspend all the licences issued to MultiChoice Tanzania Ltd for failure to comply with the authority’s orders and failure to adhere to the licence conditions including failure to exclude free-to-air television channels from among its subscription channels,” the notice read. 

MultiChoice and Star Media did not respond to inquiries but sources informed Word Is that they were seeking amicable settlement with the regulator.

Danny Mucira, the head of Bamba TV which broadcasts in Kenya said at issue is the digital migration that happened in Kenya in 2014. Due to lack of free-to-air boxes majority of the four million households paid for pay TV decoders, which were subsidised by the suppliers that would recoup their investment.

“By now they should already have recouped to allow people with lapsed subscriptions to watch free-to-air channels like Kiss TV, Bamba Sport, Citizen etc,” Mucira said.

He said the Tanzanian government's argument is necessitated by the need for free access to information as a human right.

The authority wants the companies to cease hosting the channels, which are also discontinued when a subscription expires.  However, it did not explain how the subscribers could enjoy free signals on a digital platform that is not charged.

Pay TV operators say the argument is flawed and cite hidden costs associated with hosting the free-to-air channels, such as satellite space, which is not transferred to the stations that have barter, mutually beneficial, arrangements.

A source at MultiChoice that is not authorised to speak for the company argued that the DStv platform amplifies the signal of local stations beyond their national borders, which is beneficial to their commercial survival as value addition to advertisers.

DStv claims it provides its subscribers with access to popular local stations on top of its international bouquet of channels and programmes. But it also admits to benefiting from the audiences that come with local stations.

MultiChoice services in Tanzania are similar to those offered across Africa where it has footprints.

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